Mother shares story to inspire school safety
It is a simple tenet that forms the backbone of so many families’ lives.
We send our kids off to school in the morning with the expectation that they return home safely that night.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Just ask Alissa Parker. She knows first-hand the sheer terror of knowing that axiom no longer applies.
That perfect world is shattered with a phone call. Or a text.
That was Parker’s experience on Dec. 14, 2012. Her 6-yearold daughter, Emilie, was a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Emilie, a bubbly first grader who inherited her mom’s blond hair, was one of 20 children and six adults killed when a troubled young man entered the school with a rifle and opened fire.
Imagine the horror of that day. Then imagine reliving it again and again.
That is the challenge Alissa Parker accepted. She has made it her mission to make sure the lives of Emilie and 19 other “angels” lost at Sandy Hook not be forgotten.
Alissa Parker cofounded an organization called Safe and Sound Schools, a non-profit organization dedicated to making schools what they have for the most part always been – a safe oasis for our children.
That is what brought Parker to Delaware County this week. She spoke to 250 first responders, law enforcement personnel, educators and school staff at the 19th annual Delaware County Safe Schools Summit. It’s a preventive push that has its roots in the Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colo. It’s been held every year since.
It is not a job that Parker wanted – no parent would. It is also one she cannot shy away from now. She does it for Emilie.
“It’s never easy for me to tell this story,” Parker told a silenced crowd. “But I think there is so much we can learn from the events of that day.”
She’s right. That is why this annual event is so important. Coming in the wake of the single deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, the carnage in Las Vegas that left 59 dead and 500 wounded, it is a reminder of the dangers that lurk out there every day. Unfortunately, our children are no longer immune. Incidents like Columbine and Sandy Hook stripped away the notion of school as a safe cocoon.
The Safe Schools Summit is an exercise where educators and law enforcement get together to think about the unthinkable.
Parker was blunt; the audience receptive.
“I won’t give up – and my dream is that you won’t,” Parker said of her mission to improve school safety. “You’re in charge of making sure that those children and those educators come safely home to their families each and every day. Take that target off their back.”
Parker offered some concrete proposals, based on her own tragic experience at Sandy Hook. She recalled the last parent-teacher conference she attended at Sandy Hook, and she remembered how easily accessed most classrooms were. They did not lock from the inside.
It was those thoughts that tormented her as she made her way frantically to the school on that fateful day after receiving an alert on her phone.
Parker offered safety suggestions to educators, and advice for first responders. She related how she and other parents waited at the firehouse next to the school for word on their children. They waited for more than five hours.
After the Connecticut governor indicated that the students who had been rushed to a hospital had died – unaware that parents had not yet been informed – she stressed to first responders that “the words you use matter.”
Parker offered simple, sound advice. In particular the power of a locked door. She noted that in the history of mass shootings, there is no instance where a gunman or intruder has gone through a locked door.
Parker makes it her mission, in addition to talking about school safety, to finding bright spots in the darkest moments.
Parker is part of the light. In that light she keeps hope – and the memory of her daughter – alive.
It is an honorable mission borne out of a story no parent wants to tell. Thank you, Alissa Parker, for sharing your courage. Emilie and those 19 other “angels” are still shedding light on the darkness almost five years later.